Way back in the bygone era of 2004, Rebellion made a near-perfect competitor to the Bullfrog management sim empire in the form of Evil Genius. Establishing a dedicated cult following of fans, the game saw you take control of a titular character and attempt to establish a base of operations from which you could control the world. All the while, agents from various factions would attempt to locate and infiltrate your secret island base and shut your operation down. Using a team of minions and henchmen, along with a wealth of elaborate and often nonsensical cliché-inspired traps, you were able to thwart their efforts, run schemes to acquire less-than-legitimate funds and ultimately achieve that which Pinky and the Brain had attempted for decades prior… trying to take over the world!
My introductory preamble about the original game in this franchise is more than relevant to Evil Genius 2, as the new game is an outstanding example of a glossy and enhanced remake. The development focus has notably been placed less on continuity of story in Evil Genius 2 and significantly and successfully more concentrated on refinement, improvements and polish upon the model first presented by its predecessor. The gameplay mechanics, base concepts and stylisation will all feel entirely familiar to returning fans of the series, albeit much cleaner and easier to operate than the original title.
A well-presented and paced tutorial serves as a welcome refresher and introduction to the core game mechanics, which largely revolve around managing a handful of key elements. Building, managing and maintaining your island base and its casino front is where you will spend most of your time. Dungeon Keeper or Theme Hospital-style base building is easy to grasp and fun and efficient to operate. Individual rooms are constructed for specific, albeit interconnected, purposes. Some provide foundations for your operation, such as power, research and development, training or storage for your precious gold. Others are more specific in their uses, for example, your notorious Inner Sanctum and of course the front which keeps your operation hidden from prying eyes. Advanced systems for your base, such as CCTV-based security and the construction of an elaborate and nonsensical network or outlandish traps, are introduced at a steady pace as you progress beyond the realms of conniving upstart towards the glory of Evil Genius. Simple descriptions, gentle introductions and clear conventions make it easy to grasp what you need and where in the base from the off, though, which allows you to get down to these more interesting strategies and away from the relatively gentle learning curve swiftly and soundly.
Managing the Casino floor with trained Valet staff is just a crucial as any of the minions, technicians or even henchmen at your disposal. Keeping a wealth of guests present and occupied helps you to you’re your island’s true purpose, and entices weaker-willed agents who would otherwise hunt for your lair to instead try their hand at the games of chance on offer. Those who slip through the net can be engaged by your traps and small private army or simply escorted away from the “staff only” sectors that you do not wish them to see. The front is a fun means to an end in the game, and for a while is all you really need to keep your operation a secret. It must be said, though, that as more challenging foes appear down the line there is a distinct satisfaction in seeing your elaborate security systems in action.
When the base is established and the minions are trained and in place, the global operations can begin. Using a questionably bright and colourful world map for a titular Evil Genius to have in their secret lair, you can begin to deploy your minions into a handful of different schemes and regions. You will have to start small until you have the funds and influence to expand your reach, beginning your efforts with a few minor thefts and attempts to lower your regional “heat”. As your resources and notoriety increase, however, you will quickly move on to enticing henchmen, bribing government officials, stealing state secrets and purchasing your own countries. Ultimately, of course, the goal is always clear and at the forefront of your efforts; taking over the world. It feels as though you head in that direction rather quickly, as the mechanics of world domination can be learned with relative ease thanks to the aforementioned pacing of the pseudo-story. Your success, and the efficiency of it, largely to come down to whether you have the strategic acumen to carry out the operations placed before you with the necessary gusto and competence.
Everything runs like clockwork in a good run on Evil Genius 2. There are several systems designed to keep you on your toes, most notably that of the consistent and occasionally frustrating flurries of feeble-minded agents arriving on your island for a nosey around, but these can be easily averted by following the lessons learned in the tutorial stages early on and developing and applying them appropriately. Some of the game’s side systems, such as research, training and interrogation are worthy of brief note here too, as they keep some variety and progression in the mix which could otherwise become quite rinse-repeat at times. Enhancements for your base and its minions include additions to your armoury, new traps and furnishings, and even additional floors for your structure. Building an evil lair inside a volcano only leaves so much horizontal space to work with, after all.
Training the right type of minions for your personal approach to the game can be crucial as well. Do you need more muscle than mental-marvel in your base? Perhaps more front-of-house staff is the answer. There is not one specific way to play Evil Genius 2; you can choose to be the Evil Genius that your heart tells you to be, or go rouge and follow the flow. It is up to you if you would rather have a well-maintained system of incinerators for all of the bodies, or capture and interrogate those agents who seek to expose you to learn their government’s secrets instead. This allows for varied and personalised gameplay strategies which feel rewarding as a player, and which really open up the options in the game.
Aside from systems and mechanics of play alone, the stylisation of Evil Genius is one of its greatest charms. Being an Evil Genius should not be all doom and gloom, and the colour pallet of the game alone presents that from the off. Brightly coloured outfits, nonsensical, semi-cartoonish traps and comical characters are worthy of recognition in their own right and let you know from the word go that this game is intended to be fun above all else. That is perhaps most clear in the options for which Genius you choose to play as in the game. In the case of Maximus, the traditional box art character who I chose to play for my first run in Evil Genius 2, the Bond (or Austin Powers) inspired villain has his sights set on becoming President of the World through intimidation and poor anger management. Each Genius has their own unique abilities to utilise which allows you to consider your playstyle and strategy even before the action formally begins. The only area in which the detail, brightness and comedy of the game’s house style notably falls short is the loose and questionably voiced story which attempts to offer a canvas upon which the action plays. The presentation of lines in jarring and lacks flow, and that is at its best. Unfortunately, you are frequently reminded of this impassable hurdle at several stopping points throughout the game.
In spite of that latter note, I really enjoyed playing Evil Genius 2. It perfectly balanced the elements of fresh and throwback for me in a way that many near-decades-later continuations of franchises often fall short of doing. The upgrades upon the original game are abundant and welcome, and the initial familiarity of the Evil Genius model made this a pick-up-and-play wonder for me. For newcomers, the game is light-hearted and accommodating from the off and is a superb example of its genre. For returning fans of the franchise, there is little more that needs to be said. Evil Genius is back, baby!
Evil Genius 2 was reviewed on PC and can be purchased here for £39.99
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